Olds College gets $16 million

Olds College has received a record $16 million donation to create the Werklund Agriculture Institute to specialize in smart and sustainable agriculture and business solutions.

Calgary oilman and philanthropist David Werklund and his partner, Susan Norman, have provided a tiered donation with a total cumulative impact of $32 million when all leverage opportunities are realized.

The donation begins with $2 million cash supplemented by a matching component in which Werklund will provide one dollar for every dollar raised up to $4 million. The final portion is a $10 million estate gift that will ensure sustainability of the institute over time.

Werklund, who grew up on a farm near Valleyview, Alta., wanted to give something back to agriculture with a focus on 21st century innovations. He is also an admirer of the work ethic developed among farmers.

“I have been an entrepreneur-employer of many folks over the years and I find the young people who grew up on farms would generally have a work ethic that was a notch above the average,” he said in an interview.

His original idea was to own and operate a mixed farm where young people could go to work and learn about agriculture.

“An entrepreneur does not always have all the skills it takes to farm from the beginning to the end,” he said.

Olds College was approached to develop the idea, in which Werklund would provide the money and the college could teach agriculture, leadership and personal development so that young people would know how to run a farm after graduation.

“There were so many aligned values, and I thought they (Olds College) were not so much of a bureaucratic institute. I found they were a can-do bunch of people with an outstanding attitude toward new ideas,” he said.

He is interested in 21st century agriculture and innovative ways to adopt best practices.

“Everything we are doing has to be run like a business so that it sustains itself,” he said.

“We need to come up with enough capital in the beginning to put the infrastructure in place but then from there everything is run like a business.”

He left the farm as a young man and went to work for Shell Oil in 1965. He was a co-founder of Concord Well Servicing, founder of Tervita Corp. (formerly CCS Corp.), founder of Werklund Capital Corp. and founder of the Werklund Foundation with his daughter, Deanna.

Through the foundation, the Werklund Foundation Centre for Youth Leadership Education in the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Education was opened with a $25 million donation.

The new funding will help develop the Growth Centre located on campus, said Tom Thompson, president of Olds College.

These kinds of gifts are part of a growing trend across North America, in which more private money is funding programs and capital projects.

“There was a day when higher education was funded at 85 cents on the dollar,” Thompson said.

“Those days are gone and there are competing demands for the taxpayer dollar, and as result, in many jurisdictions across our country you find the contribution to higher education somewhere in the 40 to50 cents on the dollar.”

The Werklund Agriculture Institute has several components:

  • thought leader in smart agriculture and sustainability
  • a producer mentor program partnership with producers and agriculture industry leaders exposing students to smart agriculture practices
  • Olds College agriculture and food enterprise will be a vertically integrated gate-to-plate agriculture and food learning enterprise in which students engage in business decision making and managing

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